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COMMENTARY: Disasters put focus on supply chains

COMMENTARY: Disasters put focus on supply chains

Nearly a year after Japan's Tohoku-Oki earthquake and tsunami, the catastrophe's effects still are being felt.

Among the most obvious, no doubt, is the impact on those who lost family members or loved ones in the March 11, 2011, tragedy. In addition, there are the approximately 80,000 people displaced by the 12-mile exclusion zone around the crippled Fukushima Daichi nuclear power plant, an area that may well remain abandoned for decades.

Other issues remain, too, far from the scene of the catastrophe. Officials in the United States and Canada, for example, continue to survey the level of radiation that might have traveled from the Fukushima plant across the Pacific to North America.

Scientists also are working to determine what might become of all the debris swept into the Pacific by the tsunami.

The Los Angeles Times last week reported on efforts to predict where ocean currents and winds ultimately might carry that debris. The post also noted that while Japanese officials estimated the tsunami created 25 million tons of debris, not all of it is destined to wash up on Hawaiian beaches. Some never made it into the ocean, some will sink and some will join the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

The effects of the catastrophe linger as well in the heightened risk awareness they produced. The March event—along with the floods in Thailand later in 2011—dramatically increased many organizations' awareness of the risk of supply chain disruptions. As the events in Japan disrupted various industries' supply chains, what previously had been a procurement issue in many companies suddenly became a topic of interest in the C-suite.

The 2011 catastrophe in Japan also has prompted reviews of the seismic safety of U.S. nuclear plants, and has raised the sense of urgency to address risk mitigation efforts in many earthquake- and tsunami-exposed areas, including the Pacific Northwest.

Something tells me the events of March 11, 2011, and the subsequent issues are likely to find their way into discussions at an event taking place in New York this week: Business Insurance's 2012 Risk Management Summit. The annual gathering taking place this Wednesday and Thursday brings senior risk managers from the largest companies in the U.S. and elsewhere together to focus on discussions of key issues facing their organizations.

Topics to be examined at this year's summit include cyber liability, risks of global expansion, supply chain risk management and captive insurance strategies. We'll be reporting on the summit in print and online, as well as tweeting from the event. (You can follow me at I'm looking forward to the discussions, as well as any feedback or thoughts you might provide.